Hip-hop producer Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and his wife, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, have unveiled plans for a new arts center in the sleepy upstate New York town of Macedon.
Swizz and Keys, who collect artists including Kehinde Wiley, Nina Chanel Abney, Arthur Jafa, KAWS, and Deana Lawson, have reportedly been looking for the right venue for their new Dean Collection Music & Art Campus for quite some time. But when they saw the former industrial complex on Macedon’s Route 31 they immediately knew it was the perfect place, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.
“[Swizz Beatz] flew in on a helicopter to Canandaigua about a month ago and took a limousine from Canandaigua to Macedon, got out, looked at the property and apparently said, ‘This is it; this is the property I want to buy,'” the couple’s lawyer, Linda Shaw, told WXXI News. “It’s an amazing use for the street, because that street was part of the Underground Railroad and their art collection is an African American art collection.”
Beatz signed a contract to purchase the land, and the deal is expected to close in the next two weeks. “We are very excited about our campus in Macedon,” Swizz Beatz told artnet News, through a representative. “We are in the early stages of planning so we are not in a place to share details, but our intention is to continue to be mindful in building a global creative community.”
Located in Wayne County, less than a half hour’s drive from Rochester and 70 miles west of Syracuse, Macedon has a population of just 8,985, according to the Finger Lakes Times. When Shaw brought plans for the center before town board members last week, there were audible gasps from the townspeople in attendance. “There was a wow factor,” town engineer Scott Allen told local news outlet News10NBC. “That’s the million-dollar question: Why Macedon?”
Although it might seem unlikely, the deal is “shockingly real,” Shaw told news station 13WHAM, and the couple will be touring the property in the coming weeks. She will make a second presentation to the town planning board on August 19.
The Dean Collection hopes to set up shop in a 110-acre industrial complex built in the early 1960s. Originally the Kordite Technical Center, the site served as the Exxon/Mobile Center before being sold to the Jindal Films Company, which is based in India. But Jindal moved out in December 2015, and the property has been on the market since, with the asking price dropping from $6.3 million to $2.5 million, according to the Times of Wayne County. (The property was assessed at $7.8 million in 2016.)
There are three vacant buildings on the property, collectively measuring 200,000 square feet. The Dean Collection’s plans call for renovating the main building and converting it into classrooms, a cafeteria, and office space. The idea, according to the official project description, is to “educate musicians and artists about the business side of the music and art industry, and have a campus and creative atmosphere for learning and expanding opportunities.”
“The long term use of the property, which will likely require rezoning portions of the 100-acre property to accommodate mixed uses, is to build dorms and a place for people to live while they are attending or teaching at the school,” the proposal continues.
One of the other two buildings will become a performing arts center with a training area and a gym, the other an exhibition space and the permanent home for the Dean Collection. The gallery space, housed in what is now a simple pole barn, will have regular public viewing hours.
The move follows two high-profile exhibitions of work from the Dean Collection held earlier this year, at UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles during Frieze Los Angeles and at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. The former featured more than 20 contemporary African American artists, curated by Dean Collection art adviser Nicola Vassell, while the latter was a show of works by Civil Rights-era photographer Gordon Parks. (Beatz and Keys boast the largest privately held collection of Parks’s work.)
The Dean Collection Music & Art Campus appears to be a natural extension of the work that Swizz Beatz has done with No Commission, the free art fair he founded in Miami in 2016. The event has since seen editions in the Bronx, London, Shanghai, and Berlin. In 2018, the Dean Collection took that work one step further by giving out $100,000 to help artists looking to stage their own exhibitions—$5,000 each to 20 different artists—through the Dean Collection 20 St(Art)ups initiative.
The deal for the new art center is expected to move quickly. “I think the Town Board was very excited,” Shaw told WXXI News. “We got a very positive reception.”